This episode of On CUE spotlights one of the college's brand new initiatives for student professional development: ProReady. Senior Director of Student Professional Development Ben Weihrauch walks us through how the idea came about, why it will be pivotal for students and how you can get involved
Announcer: And now from the University of Colorado in Boulder, the College of Engineering and Applied Science presents: On CUE.
Josh Rhoten: Welcome to this edition of On CUE. My name is Josh Rhoten, today we're talking with Ben Weihrauch, the Senior Director of Student Professional Development in our college. He's the brains behind the ProReady initiative. You may have seen something about that online or noticed the signs in our engineering center lobby. Stick around to hear how and why that initiative got started and how students, faculty and staff can get involved.
Ben Weihrauch: My name is Ben Weihrauch and I serve as the Senior Director for Student Professional Development in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Rhoten: Can you tell me what that title means? It's a new position in our college, right?
Weihrauch: Yeah, it kind of means everything and nothing at the same time. So, yes, this is a new position. Dean Braun, along with a number of the leadership folks here in the college, have essentially charged me with pulling together all of the folks around the college that do work in the career and professional development space for students. So, we have a number of folks, whether it be their specific job description or pieces of their job description, or pieces that they've just taken ownership of, that are helping students to get to where they want to go in their career. So, this could be our career services team, it could be faculty who are advising students on internships, it's a lot of different people. So, the goal is to get everybody together and working in one direction.
Rhoten: So, tell me what that means for a student. If I were a student, what does your job position mean to me?
Weihrauch: My goal is to try to help the students get connected to all of the things that they should be getting connected with to get them ready for the world of work in a more efficient way.
Rhoten: And then I guess that leads us right into the ProReady program. Can you talk about that? What is that program?
Weihrauch: Yeah. So, a little background on ProReady to set some context. So, we know that our students - based on all of our data points and all of our senior surveys - that our students do really well after graduation. Our students are like 93% or so within six months of graduation are either working or in graduate school. So those are excellent. You know, excellent first destination numbers. And when we compare ourselves to our peer and aspirational peers where we're right in line and our students, at least at the undergraduate level, are making close to 70 thousand dollars a year on average. So, we've got good outcomes and students are going to grad school or making a good salary. But we start peeling back the layers of the onion a little bit. We know that we can do a lot better to help our students become better prepared. One of the gaps that we see right away is that our students are not getting as much experience before graduation. And so, we actually have a pretty low engagement rate when it comes to internships and co-op experiences when we compare ourselves to our peers. So, our students are going out there and finding work, which is great, but we're getting some feedback that they might not be as professionally ready because they've lacked some of the entry level experiences that you would typically think of as an intern or something like that.
Rhoten: One of the things that I kind of explain to my friends and coworkers is its sort of building your skill tree up – or you're kind of leveling up. Is that kind of how you would explain it?
Weihrauch: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, when you think about young adults and new professionals, college students, they may have had some professional experience, they may have had a part time job, or maybe they've had been engaged in leadership in some way, maybe through academics or athletics, maybe in high school. But, you know, when they come to see you and they come to our college, we lay out a very specific plan for them, for their academics. You know, this is what your what your course list is going to look like. You're going to take it at this time. And every class that you're in, you get a syllabus that is like your contract with the instructor and these are your learning objectives. So, it's very clear as a student like this is my five-year path or four-year path and this is what I'm going to learn. But we have not done that when it comes to career readiness. And so, the ProReady initiative is the way to sort of speak to that and to let students know that these are the kinds of skills in parallel with your technical and academic skills that you're going to need for career success. And so how is a young person supposed to know, unless we lay that out for them so they can level up and they know that certain competencies are really key or not key. So that's really at the heart of what the ProReady initiative is all about.
Rhoten: So, a lot of students have probably seen this ProReady stuff out in the lobby around the pillars. How do those link into the formula?
Weihrauch: Sure. So, the ProReady formula is very simple. We want it to be flexible and adaptive for any student, regardless if you're an undergrad or a grad, if you're heavily into research or if you're going into industry. So, the ProReady formula, the red icon, is charting your career path. So, we want students to know that they have agency and control over where they're going in their career. And we want to connect them to the network of advisors and services within the college to help them to do that, whether it be choosing a major, working on their resumé, personal branding, all those pieces. The next one, the blue one, is gaining relevant experience. So, we need students to leave here with relevant experience, and that can be up for the student to decide what relevant experience means to them. So, it could be an internship, but it could be a side hustle. It could be entrepreneurship it could be studying abroad. It could be it could be any number of things. And then we need students to grow their professional network. So, we know that for a long-term career success, you need to be patched into the people that are in your particular fields, not only for your own learning and development, but that's the way you find work in the world of work. Now, it's, you know, it's easy to go online. To look for a job, you really find work through your network and through referrals. So, starting at the department level, but also meeting recruiters and talent acquisition managers through career fairs and joining clubs and organizations to grow your professional network. We need students to do that in order to become professionally ready.
Rhoten: So, if students are looking to get involved with this, learn a little bit more about it, you have a website set up, but you're going to be around in the college, too. Talking to them, right?
Weihrauch: Absolutely. Students, you we'll be seeing and hearing from me for your whole time here. So, get used to me. But the first way that we're getting the word out is through our marketing, through the pillars and the signage and things like that. We've built out our website, which serves as a hub or a clearinghouse for students to go to one place, learn about the ProReady formula, and then connect to all of the things around the college that that plug into our map to that idea. We're also training folks from around the college, our faculty and staff as ProReady partners. And so, we're doing 90-minute trainings and it introduces faculty and staff to what the ProReady initiative is and the research behind it and what our intended outcomes and most importantly, what they can do within the scope of their role to help push this initiative forward.
Rhoten: Can any faculty or staff member, anyone be involved in that?
Weihrauch: You bet. You bet. The criteria is pretty simple. Do you want to help students be successful in their career or help them become professionally ready? If the answer is yes, then then you can be part of the ProReady network.
Rhoten: Can you tell me what someone can expect if they're coming to one of those trainings? You said 90 minutes, what are they going to hear?
Weihrauch: So, we start off with some contextual information. So why are we here? Why are we doing this ProReady thing? So, we dig into the into the data and the information about our first destination rates and information and feedback from employers and give them a nice context to set the tone. Then we go into the ProReady formula and we learn about each one of the areas within the ProReady formula. And then we do some individual and then small group discussion and activities around. Now that you know what the formula is, how can you integrate that into your work and how can you contribute to the initiative? So, it's a little bit of lecture. It's a little bit of small group and then reporting out and some interactive activities. We also take them through the website and on the website specifically, we have a section on the ProReady site just for our ProReady partners. And we have an electronic or an E tool kit where they can go on and grab information and resources that they might need for their class or for their advising services. So that’s in essence what the what the ProReady partner training is all about.
Rhoten: And I want to reiterate this, too. It's not just for grad students. It's not just for one department. It's not just for any type of students. It's for everyone from start to finish.
Weihrauch: That's right. That's right. I've been hired by the dean to make sure that all of our students, regardless of where you come from, who you are, where you're going, and doesn't matter if you're in a particular department, if you're a grad student, if you're a doctoral student, any student needs to be and should be engaged in this formula. It doesn't matter who you are. You still need to, even if you're a doctoral student or an undergrad, you need to chart your own career path. You need to gain experience and you need to grow your professional network. So, yes, we're here to lift all boats for all students. So, this is not a program necessarily. You don't have to opt in. There's no passwords. This is an initiative to get you started. So, if you and you can start at any time and commonly we start with freshmen because we want to get them at least thinking about the end in mind, even though they just showed up to campus a couple of weeks ago or, you know, this semester. But a student can plug into this at any time. So, all that to do is visit the ProReady website and start to take a look at what are the expectations for you as a student, learn about the ProReady formula and then start connecting to the different services across the college. So, it's not a program. It's not for credit. You don't have to sign up. You can just go to the to the ProReady website as a resource and get started.
Rhoten: And that's Colorado.edu/engineering/ProReady, right? That's right. And they can also find you at career fairs and those kinds of things and get some awesome swag, too.
Weihrauch: Yeah. Yeah. So, we're doing a ton of tabling. We'll be out in the engineering center lobby and we'll be over in the aerospace lobby. We'll be at all the career fairs, all the networking events. We partnered very closely with career services. We'll be at will be in clubs and organization meetings. And so, if you are part of one of the 75 or 80 clubs or organizations affiliated with the college, you'll probably meet me. And I've got a ton of free stuff that I'm giving out along with the brochure. So, shirts and other swag items. So, you'll definitely see me around and it's going to be exciting to see the ProReady swag being used and worn all over the college.
Rhoten: Worn proudly, right?
Weihrauch: Yes, absolutely.
Rhoten: Thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it.
Weihrauch: Thanks. Appreciate it.
Announcer: CU Engineering is committed to helping all students become ProReady. For more information on the ProReady initiative, visit www.colorado.edu/engineering/ProReady. This has been On CUE.